Saturday, 14 February 2009

Wheel out the Dinosaurs

By Darren E Laws

I tuned into BBC’s The Money Programme with high expectations to see an investigation into the current state of play in the world of publishing but was disappointed to find a programme that did not even scratch the surface of the challenges facing the publishing industry today.  Instead it went down the lazy route and rolled out the dinosaurs for sound bites and the usual pop culture diatribe that we once used to associate with tabloid newspapers.

Watching the programme was like seeing someone guide the last lemmings on earth blindfolded to the edge of a cliff.  What is frightening about ‘Media Revolution – Title Fight’ is that it is clearly a programme that has been pitched and set to an audience that believes it is witnessing a revolution in the publishing industry.  How could the programme ignore the impact of digital technology, yet it did.  Instead it concentrated on the removal of the net book agreement, yes this was a turning point and an important factor in where we are now, but the net book agreement was abolished over a decade ago, a lot has happened since then.  Obviously a lot which the mainstream publishers choose to ignore as did the makers of this programme. 

The focus (which the BBC is still continuing through other radio and TV programmes) on celebrity biographies is interesting and one which the major publishers see as a saviour of its inability to face digital and technological change or actually read and sign interesting new talent, rather than throwing money at ‘celebrities’ to write, or paying huge advances in bidding wars, which cannot be a sustainable business model especially in this day and age.

I am hoping Will Self is aware of the impact of digital technology and not just how Amazon has screwed publishers to the rafters while the supermarkets pick over the remains of the corpse they have so delightfully served up.  Famine or feast?  We have an industry running around doing an awesome impression of an ostrich with its head well and truly buried in the sand or up its own backside.

So did the programme have its finger on the pulse of what is happening in the industry.  It had its finger on the pulse of the class discriminating, ego-centric, narcissistic monsters that populate the industry.  The people who have too much power and too little understanding of the real world.  The people who are the cause and reason the industry is in the condition it is in today.   The dinosaurs.

It was almost laughable when they lauded the Richard & Judy programme as a powerful influencer in the world of publishing.  The latest viewing figures for this programme is now 8,000 per episode.  Hardly the viewing figures or influence achieved by Oprah. 

Overall the programme was screened five years too late.  BBC you have a lot to learn about the industry as it stands today.  Sadly for the publishing industry afraid to embrace digital technology or address a business model eighty years out of date, I fear that it may never learn until it is too late to do anything but severe damage limitation…a bit like addressing the problems of our financial institutions.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Are Authors as much to to blame for publishing's current malaise as publishers?

By Darren E Laws

This may be difficult to read especially if you are an aspiring author, but are authors as much to blame for falling profits, closing bookstores and the current failure of the publishing world to embrace new digital media platforms?

Reading many forums, blogs and articles on various sites it becomes clear than many, many authors (aspiring or otherwise) wish to continue living in a cloud cuckoo land where the age old business model of paying advances and expecting a living wage on the basis of absolutely no sales exists.

The global economic crisis has led to a massive downturn in profits across the board which is striking the very foundations of companies that have been established for decades and in some cases hundreds of years.

The publishing industry has the reactive qualities of a dinosaur on diazepam and sadly it has instilled a culture of acceptance in generation after generation of authors that the only business model is one that was adopted by publishers in the 1900’s.  Namely large upfront advances based on nothing more than a hunch and a publishers marketing machine.  Well,  the world has moved on buddy and it is no longer the case that publishers can afford to continue going down this rocky road. 

The Internet now exposes how authors expect this model to continue no matter what the economic climate says.  I have read countless threads where authors appear to be viewing the world of publishing through rose coloured glasses. For example comments such as “Well if they are not going to pay an advance they are just crooks, or they’re POD with no established route to bookstores.”

Yes, what a great idea, let's just fill every bookstore across the country with hundreds of copies of books regardless of the demand and then see those books return in six months to be shipped off once more to a remainder shop or back to the printers for pulping. How environmentally sound and what a great business plan…not.

Let's examine how well the world of publishing is coping with the current situation.  Bookstores are closing, profits are shrinking, publishers refuse to look at new delivery platforms, and sales are in decline.  Yet still I see unpublished authors bleating on about how a publisher is not a real publisher if he is not putting his hand into his own pocket and paying the author hundreds or thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds before a solitary sale has been made. Cuckoo!

Business cannot run this way any longer. In fact I don’t know of many other businesses which allow such a model to operate.  Do you think Tesco or Wal-Mart would let you walk away with all their stock on the basis that one day you may be able to pay the bill?

Until we see a paradigm shift in thinking in both authors and publishers it may be that we have to face the fact that many established companies are going to collapse never to rise. Authors, I appreciate you think your work is the best thing since sliced bread, that’s what I think with every novel I complete, but the truth is you are only as good as your sales and that is all the reward you deserve.  It is the only sustainable business model, like it or not.  Yes, there will always be exceptions and bidding wars.  Good luck to the companies which want to get involved in that particular strand of madness. 

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Will the real Samson please stand up

By Darren E Laws

Although Tripping has only been published as an eBook on one site for four weeks it has achieved an astonishing 318 downloads pushing it above many books from established publishers such as Hachette Book Group and Harper Collins among others.

What amazes me about this is the democratization of the Internet and how what really matters at the end of the day is a good story and not the size of the publishing house behind it.  The sheer amount of ‘Word of Mouth’ gained from these downloads alone is invaluable.

The publishing industry is still divided about the worth of eBooks and long may it remain so because while it dithers small company’s such as Caffeine Nights Publishing can take on larger publishers with a much more even footing.  If I was to publish Tripping at as many eBook stores as I could those figures could well be in the high thousands.  Guess what my next step is…